CHICAGO - Hospital emergency visits due to underage drinking are likely to jump on New Year's day, U.S. government researchers said Thursday, hoping to warn parents and young people of the dangers as they ring in 2011.
According to the latest statistics, there were an estimated 1,980 visits to emergency rooms in the United States on Jan. 1, 2009 related to underage drinking, nearly four times the 546 such visits on an average day that year.
"That's a big jump," said Frances Harding, director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, whose department released the study.
Emergency visits involving underage drinking around New Year's Eve exceeded those of two other popular U.S. holidays -- Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July weekend.
The data was collected by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency room visits.
Harding's team said the New Year's holiday may be especially risky because teenagers and young adults under the legal drinking age of 21 may drink more during this holiday than other times of the year.
Holidays generally involve greater access to alcohol and lax parental oversight, the report said.
"Parents need to be very clear in giving their children under the age of 21 the message that it's not acceptable for them to be drinking," Harding said in a telephone interview.
"It's against the law because it's dangerous. It is hard for young people to hear but it is true."
Each year, she said, there are more than 5,000 deaths in the United States related to underage drinking.
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